I was deeply touched. I started the interview by asking the children (and their mother who was there, too) what games they had played back home in Syria, and what it had been like to be a child in Homs. Was it just like being a child in Germany? They started talking and I didn´t even have to ask questions any more. They started with their happy and funny memories, then moved on and told me about the bombs, the flight, and their first months in Germany. Every now and then their mother said something in Arabic, which I didn´t understand; but I suppose she told them to tell me about certain experiences. I’m very grateful, as I could never have written a similar book without their openness.
How did children perceive the book and reacted to it? Do you think that you reached the goal for which you wrote the book?
I’ve done many readings from the book and usually the German children ask how they can help. They want to know if the family has a flat of their own now, if the children have their toys back, which the smugglers took away from them, and if they have friends now. I’m sure the book helped many children to understand why these people come to us.
What feedback did you get from adults? Did it change their conception of refugees?
I do not know about parents. But I believe that grown-ups need more than a little story to change their opinion. Those accepting that many refugees come to our country will probably feel supported in their conviction; the others, I fear, cannot be reached.
Did your characters Rahaf and Hassan read the book? What did they say about it?
They were the first people I gave the book to. They were not very impressed – if it had been a film, yes, that would have been something! But a book – they are not really interested in reading. They showed the book to their teachers at school, though, and I hope it may have helped the teachers to understand them better.
Will you write more of these stories; about those children or maybe other refugee children?
Not at the moment. There are so many books about refugees now. It has become an important topic! And these two children need to be left in peace. They should not be made into public figures. That was not what they expected or wanted, when they told me their story. They should have a chance to lead an ordinary life just like other children after their experiences in Syria and on the boat. That is what they need most, I think!